After the conclusion of a three-day summit in Vrindavan this week, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has come out with a revised agenda going forward to designate the term ‘Bharatiyata’ instead of ‘Hindutva’ while addressing non-Hindu denominations within the country.

With elections coming next year, this can also be looked at as a political strategy but internal intellectual discussions have always been rich within the RSS as it has constantly tried to reinvent itself to reach wider audiences in the rapidly changing times of today’s world.

Aiming at people who might not necessarily identify with its older rhetoric of labelling everyone as a “Hindu”, something that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat publicly said while speaking on the third day of his lecture series in Delhi four years ago, the RSS now looks as moving to Bharatiyata, a more inclusive identity.

Going forward with this agenda in states like Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir the agenda is expected to be aimed at people who look beyond just religious lines but to all pervading nationalistic ones.

An old question of nationalistic identity

The RSS has had a long tussle with the question of how to define the identity of the inhabitants of our country. Nomenclature thus becomes an important aspect in this regard. India or Bharat, the country’s name defines our identity.

The rhetoric of terming all Indians or Bharatvasis as ‘Hindu’ has been an old practice within RSS circles, but now it looks to incorporate ‘Bharatiyata’.

India is a country with an old historic tradition. It has existed way before it became a ‘nation-state’ after its Independence from the British. Its identity is thus historic and those aspects of its tradition should also be inculcated when one defines its modern identity.

The concept of the Indian ‘nation-state’, as many have claimed, has been given while looking at it through Western social-science descriptions not Indian traditional ones.

Unlike Western nation states where formation of a nation resulted in a newly manufactured nationalism as a way to define the country’s identity, nationalism in India has been old and existed long before the formation of the modern nation state.

Thus an all pervading term for national identity in India is important, be it ‘Hindu’ or ‘Bharatiya’.

The meaning and consequences of this revision

The term ‘Hindvi’ or ‘Hindu’ as a concept to define the citizens of this land is a rather old one. From the poet Amir Khusrow to the saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, all used the term ‘Hindvi’ to define the residents of this land, the term thus can be seen as one introduced by Turkish and Iranian muslim rulers. But for a diverse but still inclusive state some term to unify identity is pivotal, hence ‘Hindu’ or ‘Bhartiya’.

Despite the historicity of the term ‘Hindu’, to separate the idea of a ‘Hindu state’ from something theocratic to something more cultural and inclusive like ‘Bharat’ thus may seem to fit better today. It may ease the fears of people of other religious denominations for whom the word ‘Hindu’ has now been corrupted to mean something that is not a cultural identity as it was meant to be but as something which only pertains to the organised religion of Hinduism.

Looking at it through this lens, the step should be welcomed, as RSS tries to inculcate other faith adherents into the definition of the all inclusive Hindvi or Bhartiya state.

The modern, educated and young voter-citizen, perhaps divorced from much historicity and religiosity of this traditional land, may also find it more easier to relate to this term ‘Bharat’, though it is more religious than the cultural term ‘Hindu’.

The national identity of ‘Bharat’ is named after the legendary Hindu figure ‘Bharat’, son of Shakuntala and Dushyant who was groomed in the Hindu saint Kanwa’s ashram.

Thus the revisions and dilutions that have occurred to words and concepts throughout the years, based on some ideological bent or other, have mutilated them to such an extent that modern definitions now are too far from their original meaning. To have them intact and working is still necessary as newer generations are to navigate with the traditions of our land going forward, and the RSS’s initiative to make this more palatable to as many as possible is thus important and much needed.

Though most modern, young Indians may not give much thought to where our national identity comes from and to where it goes, it is imperative to define and delineate it in a ever changing modern world that is becoming more and more homogeneous with not much difference in cultures as they all become to look alike…

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